MOORLACH UPDATE — Voice of OC — March 5, 2011

Yesterday morning the Board of Supervisors met for a rare Special Meeting with one Closed Session agenda item:  Conference with Legal Counsel – Threatened Litigation.

This meeting was followed by more than an hour of reporter interviews where I could only provide a “no comment” answer to the majority of their questions.  However, you have to marvel at the aggressiveness of their questioning techniques.  It’s too bad they didn’t give the 2010 June Primary the same kind of attention.  Incumbent Public Administrator John Williams had three challengers.  Can you recall one article in any local media outlet last spring of why that might be the case?  Wouldn’t the fact that three individuals were frustrated enough with the incumbent to run for public office cause you to pause and wonder why?

During the Christmas holidays in 2009 I bumped into a young lady who informed me that she used to work for the Public Administrator.  She loved the job, but she quit because she was so dissatisfied with the management.  Remember, most people do not quit good jobs, they leave bad managers.  She went on to lament the situation in our conversation and pressed me to do something about it.  The Public Administrator is an elected position, therefore not subject to the vulnerability of being terminated by management.  I retorted that if she was deeply concerned about the situation, she should run for the position the following June.  That’s how you deal with an elected official who is doing a poor job.  The following January, Colleen Callahan called me and said something like “I pulled papers to gather in lieu signatures, now what do I do?”  Bully for her.  She jumped into the game, even though she was a neophyte.  But, she made a loud statement.  She was a sincere resident running against a troubled elected official, but the media blew her off.  (Does this ever sound familiar?)  In my 2010 Primary voter’s guide, which was publicly posted online (http://www.robynnordell.com/), I did not endorse John Williams and recommended that Ms. Callahan would be a good vote.

We are all experiencing a large dose of righteous indignation over Mr. Williams.  The Voice of OC article below provides a good overall perspective of what I and my colleagues are dealing with.  I look forward to the day where I will be able to comment.

How Much Could the Williams’ Fiasco Cost Taxpayers?

With word coming out that embattled Public Administrator John Williams is willing to heed supervisors call for his resignation, the question now becomes: how much will it cost?

According to sources close to the talks, the big question facing supervisors is whether to agree to hand Williams the payoff he seeks in exchange for resigning — estimated at a year or more of salary — which he argues he secured when voters re-elected him to office in 2010.

Yet voices are rising against offering Williams any kind of payoff, complicating the negotiations.

Supervisors apparently weren’t able to reach a consensus during a last-minute closed session meeting Friday morning to discuss the Williams issue.

"Progress was made," said lead negotiator and Supervisors Chairman Bill Campbell. "But there is not a final resolution. I’m hopeful something will be resolved early next week."

Supervisor Shawn Nelson disclosed that Williams delivered some "surprise information" on Friday’s closed session that could likely lead to a conclusion of the crisis in a manner of days.

Other than that, supervisors aren’t talking about the negotiations.

There is some talk about the possibility that if negotiations break down, the supervisors would have the option of calling for grand jury probe. That panel has the power, in rare circumstances, to remove an elected official like Williams from office.

The one wrinkle in that option is that Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas would not likely be able to empanel a grand jury because of a conflict of interest: His fiancé, Peggi Buff, is the second-in-command at Williams’ shop. That would bring the issue to the state Attorney General’s doorstep.

Regardless, the pressure is certainly on the supervisors to take a hard stance with Williams.

Former assistant DA Todd Spitzer, campaign finance watchdog Shirley Grindle and Flash Report Publisher Jon Fleischman – have all called on supervisors to not pay Williams a dime of taxpayer funds to leave office.

It’s the final stages of a month-long negotiation to move Williams out of office, just as lawsuits are gearing up against the county over Williams’ handling of a high-profile probate case.

Earlier this week, supervisors voted to reverse their decision from 2007 that combined the appointed position of Public Guardian and the elected office of Public Administrator.

That 2007 move ensured that Williams — a well-connected conservative GOP central committee member and trustee of the South Orange County Community College District — got an annual salary in excess of $150,000 by combining the two offices.

Williams assent was a byproduct of his local GOP connections, cruising into office with solid endorsements from GOP heavyweights such as County Supervisor John Moorlach.

Yet by 2009, he was under fire from the county’s grand jury, which issued two scathing reports that criticized Williams’ growing bureaucracy and management staff. Williams and his attorney, Phil Greer, mounted a campaign against the grand jury but it never gathered traction.

He also was the focus of a county audit that looked at his extensive travel, questioning whether he could legitimately charge taxpayers for work when he was off on educational conferences connected to his work as a school district trustee.

Moorlach turned against Williams hard, especially after the grand jury reports, removing his endorsement before the 2010 election and becoming a vocal opponent.

The record isn’t so clear for other supervisors – like Campbell and Janet Nguyen – who both say they can’t remember whether they endorsed Williams or not during his last campaign because the office was so off-radar for them at the time.

Indeed, Williams ballot statement from June 2010 said he’s endorsed by "members of the board of supervisors."

Both Campbell and Nguyen have now called for Williams’ resignation.

And while Williams won re-election to countywide office last June, in what could have been seen as a harbinger of Williams’ collapsing support base, he lost re-election to the OC Republican Central Committee that same month.

Those kinds of political insiders, so key to Williams’ quiet rise, are now the very ones telling supervisors to play hardball as Williams tries to negotiate his way out.

Please contact Norberto Santana, Jr. directly at nsantana@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/norbertosantana. And add your voice with a letter to the editor.

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